"Siouxsie Sioux is Irrelevant" and Other Things You Should Never Say

Our resident Queen of Goth is emerging from her coffin to set the internet straight. Again. (previously). This post was taken, and graciously received, from Michelle's Tumblr account, which can be viewed here. This article was written in response to a post by Sandra_von_Ruin. Michelle's comments are in bold italics.

I had to weigh in on this. As much as I disagreed with a lot here, I do love conversing about our amazing culture. 

“So i have identified as goth for around ten years now and have been pretty active in the community. Over time i have seen the ugly side of goth. I have seen bullies, elitists and kids just trying to fit in. As i get older i have started developing my own opinions on the subculture based on what i have observed. This pertains both to the physical community i belong to and the online community. This post is for young, modern goths who feel that they have been ostracized from the community. But more importantly, this is for the elder goths or Trad goths who do not understand why young goths are the way they are. First - why are we suddenly “Trad Goths”? Why the qualifier? All it does is draw arbitrary lines in the sand between us. I am, and have always been, a Goth, plain, simple, for better or worse. I’ve loved Specimen for as long as and equally as much as I’ve loved Lycia. On the internet, do I call myself an Ethereal Trad Batcaver? Of course not, sounds silly, doesn’t it?

So lets start with a brief history lesson. Yes it can be a little difficult to pin down exactly when and where goth came from, but most agree that it started in the late 70′s to early 80′s. It was a subculture based around a genre of music. Some of the most popular bands being Bauhaus, UK Decay, Siouxsie and the Banshees etc. These bands garnered a lot of very dedicated fans that have stuck around throughout the years. Back when the community was still new there weren’t many complicated guidelines for what made someone goth. Basically all you had to do was listen to the music and have dark tastes. Yes!! This is exactly as it could have remained without the silly qualifiers. Most goths had a dreary view of the world and their attitudes often reflected that. As the years went by, the club scene and community grew. Throughout the late 80′s and early 90′s came the second and third wave goth bands. Alas this is where everything starts to sort of fall apart and everyone’s attitude begins to change. Again, I must disagree. I came to the music in 1990, to the “scene” (as in I was sneaking underage into goth clubs) a few years later and attitudes were not “falling apart”. We were strong and vibrant and (I say this with a touch of Irony) alive. The second wave of bands was beginning, new record labels were forming, there was an influx of zines… all these things coalesced us into a subculture that had even more to offer and ushered in a globalization of Goth.

Throughout the 90′s the subculture became a little more exposed. This bothered a lot of goths who were there for the original scene. Most preferred that the scene and its music stayed underground. Because of this, many goths, old and modern were becoming divided. Yes, “tourists” are kinda annoying, but did any of us suddenly decide to hate the Cure because they got so big? No! And even if only a few people were “converted” to the subculture, great! I think everyone should recognize Bob as a genius. And they certainly didn’t court the fame, it just so happened that the general public got it right this time. This is around the time that everything began branching off into sub styles. Most young goths weren’t just goth. They were Cyber goth or Romantic goth. All the original kids from the scene were now referred to as traditional or Trads for short. Maybe somewhere, but not in NYC. Goths were Goths. The industrial kids were maybe called rivet heads, but it’s not like they really wanted to be “one of us”. Many Trads resented what the scene had become and insisted that the only way a band could be considered goth was if they had a very particular sound and the only way someone could be taken seriously as goth was if they listened to the bands with that sound. But evidently this stunted the evolution or growth of the music. Whereas genres like pop, rock and country have evolved and grown over the years along with the new generations of fans, goth music for the most part stayed the same. Again, I must disagree. The spectrum of Goth is wide and diverse. Yes, the hallmarks of guitar based Gothic Rock remain the same, but can’t you say that for many styles of music?

But in keeping this same sound and by keeping the music more underground, this allowed for the media to actually shape the new generation of goths. Kids were no longer being attracted to the music, but the fashion and the idea of being connected to other people through having a dark mindset. Because of the lack of exposure and evolution of the music, the subculture had to evolve in other ways. I don’t see how you can make a blanket statement like this- if the fashion drew you in, fine, but stay for the music. That’s the key element to a subculture. I, and so many others before and after me, came to the music first. And though the new generation might come to the music differently than I did, it still must be the music that hooks you. Goth is a subculture, not a trend or a neo-tribe.

Most young goths nowadays will tell you they never heard of a single goth band before realizing they were goth. How are you Goth without the music? Why even court the label? Thats because most of these bands are now irrelevant and outdated. Unless their parents made them listen to Sisters of Mercy or Siouxsie and the Banshees, they had never heard of them. Oh Lord(e), where to begin? So, old = irrelevant? In school I studied the works of Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens- was I wasting my time? Of course not! There’s a reason these works are still taught at various levels of academia. They were 1) WONDERFUL! and 2) landmarks and progenitors of their genres. They remain relevant due to their vast cultural impact. Jane Austen pretty much invented the romcom (albeit with more intelligence and wit than you get with Hollywood these days). Jane Eyre was a feminist icon for her time. Edgar Allan Poe was not only a master of the macabre, but he ushered in the popularity of the detective story. By that parallel alone, the Sisters and Souixsie and the Banshees can NEVER be “irrelevant”. They are landmarks of their genre, influencing everyone from their peers, to the second wave bands to the modern bands today. I hear Siouxsie’s influence in Zola Jesus. The Sisters in bands like The Rope. The Cocteau Twins in the brilliant Them Are Us Too. When you shape something, you leave your mark on it.

This is proof that the subculture has changed drastically over the years and has had to find other ways to survive. Of course there still are plenty of Trads out there but a lot of them can be a little hard to get along with if you are a young goth in the scene. Again, blanket statement. Most Goths want to, and recognize the need to, drive the scene forward with new blood. Personally, I want to pass my knowledge and experience on. With so much bs out there, why would we pass on the opportunity to espouse on the thing we love so dearly? When I meet someone, young or old, goth or not, and they tell me that they like SATB, they better be ready. Because in .02 seconds I’ll be spouting off my favorite songs, albums, videos. And if they only know Cities in Dust? No worries! I’ll make you a tape! (okay, probably not an actual tape, but you know what I mean). There are jerks everywhere, and I’m sorry if you met one with crimped hair, but we don’t all suck, I promise. I’ll admit, yes, if you come up to me and start telling me that Manson/ The Black Veil Brides/ Combichrist are the be all end all of Goth, I’m going to roll my heavily lined eyes at you. But this post is about talking about Goth, so I’ll move on.

There is still this pressure to listen to the old music and what a lot of Trads fail to understand is, most kids these days dont want to listen to old, outdated sounding music. Just like modern fans of pop music arent fond of listening to old Madonna and many modern Country listeners dont have Dolly Parton on their I-pod, many young goths dont feel inclined to listen to Bauhaus. Whoa there, why are we dissing Dolly? She’s a pint sized, giant wigged wonder, but I digress. Again, why this disdain for the innovators of a genre? I’m not *too* up on whatever autotuned stuff passes for for pop these days or whatever mediocre pap in a cowboy hat they’re calling country, but I’m certain that without Madonna, there would be no Gaga/ Katy/ Rhianna/ Taylor and without Dolly, country doesn’t break into the regular top 40. Goth is a subculture, not a trend. We don’t throw something off because it’s 3 years old. That’s mainstream culture.

Its not that they dont want to listen to Goth music, it’s just a little outdated and often not what they expected. If you don’t like Bauhaus, fine (not really, because they’re amazing and Peter Murphy is gorgeous, but for politeness, it’s fine) but if you don’t at least like some of what makes Goths, goth then why the label? Think of it this way. Classical music was huge in its time, but how many people actually favor and listen to it today? Not many. I’d say that most people I know love at least one style of classical music. And the reason for this is because for the most part, classical music sounds the same. If you listen to Satie and then Wagner, you might revise that statement. It hasn’t evolved much and both music and people have changed since it was popular. Yes some people still listen to it, and many appreciate it for everything it is and has done for music, but it is still very outdated by today’s standards.

Sure, sometimes its great when a type of music stays exactly the same. But fifty years from now when all the original Trads are dead and gone and most of the music has long been forgotten, then what? Why will it be forgotten? When so many of us have a tiny computer in our pockets that can retrieve any info a person wants, why would something that means so much to so many be forgotten? Will the scene really and truly be dead? Maybe the musical side of it, yes. But since the 2000′s the scene has progressed and evolved greatly and will most likely continue to evolve for years to come.

For now there will be butt hurt. There will be the Trads who pick on the young generation. We will? But what Trads need to understand that without balance and evolution things die off. Of course, but we shouldn’t be expected to keep quiet while people retcon what is and isn’t true so that the younger generation doesn’t even know the background. Again, we love this. For many of us, Goth has dominated most of our lives, why would we not want to share it? It seems to me it’s the young generation that has little to no interest in the background of the scene, because they don’t want to be told, “that’s not Goth”. Not everything can be Goth, it’s not a crime. Lorde is not Goth. It doesn’t mean that she’s not talented, or a Goth can’t like her, it means she and her music are not Goth. I myself have a soft spot for Lana del Rey. But she’s not Goth and I don’t get, to borrow a phrase, “butt hurt” when someone says so.  If they had let the music evolve and change a bit more then more modern goths would flock to it. “Let”? Did flocks of Goths try to prevent Chelsea Wolfe from going to record her last album? I bought, and loved, her new record, as did 95% of people I know who love Goth music. But I also loved the new Terminal Gods song, which made me swear I could smell cloves, that’s how much it sounded like the late 80s.

If the music had stayed relevant, the scene may not have changed as much as it has. Change happens not because of “irrelevance”, but because of innovation. Goths, both fans and musicians, are people who will always create things, even if a lot of us do like to keep an eye on the past. Few musicians would be content to create a carbon copy of another’s record. Hell, even bands themselves change dramatically over the course of their careers. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me sounds nothing like Faith. Floodland, in all it’s brilliant bombast, doesn’t sound like most early Sisters singles. Personally, I love my fellow goths, whether they are young, old, modern or traditional, we do still all have a lot in common. We are misfits, bound together through our love for gothic art, poetry, music, fashion and overall appreciation for the darkness. So not all modern goths like the old music. No one is saying “to be Goth you must buy a leather jacket and paint the Fields of the Nephilim logo on the back and shout that they’re your favorite”. The internet culture has imposed these hard line rules (oh, you’re a Romantic Goth? Hand over that Christian Death record!), not the subculture. Yes, we have guidelines. All subcultures do. It’s our signal to one another to say “Hey! Over here!” But there’s also more to “the old music” than the most well known (Bauhaus, SATB, SoM, The Cure). I discover new-to-me 80s and 90s era music all the time. Look deep into it, you might like what you find. And if you want to tell me about a new band from the other side of the world that you found on bandcamp, I’m listening! Why? Because it should be all about the music. They still appreciate the same stuff you do. This world is a grim one. Is it too much to ask for a little piece amongst like minded people?”